Innovative energy project set to use cosmic rays for monitoring

A research consortium involving Bath has won government and industry funding to develop a novel technique using cosmic rays for monitoring storage sites for carbon dioxide (CO2).

cosmic rays

An innovative energy project is set to use cosmic rays for monitoring

22 November 2012

Geoscientists, particle physicists and engineers will work together to examine the potential of using muons -sub-atomic particles from cosmic rays- which cascade from the upper atmosphere and go on to penetrate rock several kilometres underground. The detection of cosmic ray muons can be used to map the density profile of the material above the detectors and hence measure on-going levels of CO2 in any potential carbon store.

The team comprises Durham University, University of Sheffield, the University of Bath’s Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering, Newcastle University, the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Caltech supported by Premier Oil & Gas and Cleveland Potash Limited.

The Department of Energy & Climate Change is providing £647,000 for the monitoring project alongside matched funding from industry.

Carbon storage could play a major part of UK and global environmental policies to tackle global warming but still allow us to generate clean, affordable energy.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) refers to the process of capturing waste carbon dioxide (CO2) from major sources of emission, such as fossil fuel power stations, to prevent it entering the atmosphere. The carbon is then transported (this could be in fluid form by pipeline) to a storage site. Old oil and gas fields, such as those in the North Sea, are considered to be potential storage sites. Capturing and storing carbon dioxide is seen as a way to prevent global warming and ocean acidification.

The current monitoring methodology is expensive and typically involves the collection of seismic data which enables snapshots of carbon storage levels to be taken over time. Muon tomography offers the chance to develop a continuous and passive monitoring system for deep sub-surface storage sites.

The devices developed will be tested deep underground at Boulby mine on the edge of the North Yorkshire moors.

Dr Sean Paling, Director and Senior Scientist of the Boulby Deep Underground Science Facility said of the award: “We are very pleased to be a part of such important research on carbon capture and storage.

“Boulby will be a key partner in this project as it is one of the few places available in the world for the team to develop CCS monitoring technology in an environment that is safe, relatively easy to access and one that simulates the depths and geology within which future Carbon Capture sites will operate.

“Our involvement in this work further demonstrates the versatility of the facility we have at Boulby and the increasing breadth of internationally significant science areas we are participating in.”

The DECC grant is part of a larger funding stream of £18.5m for CCS innovation projects, the latest funding to be awarded from the Government’s 4-year, £125m CCS R&D Programme. 13 projects have been awarded funding to develop and test new ideas to further reduce the cost of CCS.

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